07 Mar 2014
Sony unveiled the Xperia Z2 at Mobile World Congress (MWC) on 24 February, its latest flagship smartphone boasting 4K video capabilities.
Measuring just 8.2mm thick, Sony mobile fans will be pleased to hear that the Xperia Z2 has a slightly slimmer design but a bigger 5.2in LED display compared to its predecessor, the 5in Xperia Z1.
We got some hands-on time with the Sony Xperia Z2 on the stand right after the launch, where we managed to test out the device's standout feature: its ability to record and display 4K video, a feature not before seen on previous Sony smartphones.
The first noticeable thing about the Xperia Z2 is it feels much lighter than its predecessor, the Xperia Z1, which weighs 169g. Sony hasn't disclosed the exact weight of the Z2 just yet but from our time with it, it was clear that Sony has managed to squeeze in a good number of updates, such as a bigger screen - while reducing the weight.
The Xperia Z2 is very similar to the Xperia Z1, which in terms of design is no bad thing. We're fans of the boxy look. Even better, with this release Sony has rounded the edges meaning it's easier to hold, while packing in a 5.2in screen into the same sized bezel as the Xperia Z1.
The firm has also made it slimmer at just 8.2mm, compared to the Xperia Z1's 8.5mm. The design is therefore much more ergonomically pleasing. Picking the phone up for the first time, we were surprised how comfortable it felt, even with such a large display size.
We do have a couple of gripes, though. The Sony Xperia Z2 is rather prone to picking up fingerprints, which means it can get grubby quite easily, although its glossiness means it's very easy to clean and we are quite used to it, considering most smartphones possess this flaw.
Another great feature about the Xperia Z2's design is that, like the Xperia Z1, it's resistant to dust, water and scratches thanks to IP55 and IP58 certification. It will also launch in a number of colours, including black, white and purple.
The display on the Sony Xperia Z2 is by far its most impressive feature. With a pixel count of 1080x1920 pixels, the Xperia Z2's 5.2in display blew us away. It's an improvement over its predecessor's 5in display due to the addition of some new screen tech giving better contrast and colour representation. As a result, images appear crystal clear and it is truly stunning to use, with both text and images looking sharp and touch operations being smooth between pages and apps.
Sony has also equipped the Xperia Z2's screen with IPS technology, which means that viewing angles on the smartphone are above average.
Performance and software
The Sony Xperia Z2 is powered by a quad-core 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor with 3GB of RAM, meaning it is quite the powerhouse. The chip is just as impressive in the real world as it is on paper, and we found the device very nippy, with no lag whatsoever, even when playing and recording 4K video.
As with previous Xperia Z devices, there's LTE support onboard, and the handset arrives with 16GB of internal storage that can be expanded by another 64GB with a microSD card.
As for software, the Xperia Z1 Compact runs Google's latest Android 4.4 KitKat mobile operating system right out of the box. However, Sony has skinned Android with its own custom user interface (UI). While we've never been huge fans of Sony's custom UI, finding it overbearing compared to a vanilla Android user interface, the firm's apps are a bonus. The Xperia Z2 arrives loaded with Sony's Walkman and PlayStation companion apps as seen on the Xperia Z1, as well as many new camera features and built-in noise cancellation technology to help block out background sounds while listening to music.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the Xperia Z2 is its rear-facing camera, which not only features the same 20.7MP sensor as seen in its predecessor, but introduces 4K video recording for the first time with a resolution of 3840x2160 pixels, four times that of HD.
We gave it a quick go on the MWC show floor, and we're pleased to report that image quality is as you'd expect from a 4K camera, with video recording being super smooth due to Sony's Steadyshot technology that acts as a real-time image stabiliser. Image quality looked better than we've seen on a smartphone before.
Still images taken with the 20.7MP camera were just as impressive as seen on the Xperia Z1, appearing crisp, clear and full of natural colour even under the glaring lights of the MWC tradeshow floor.
The Sony Xperia Z2 also features a 2.2MP camera on its front that's capable of shooting HD 1080p video for all your selfie needs.
Connectivity and battery
The Xperia Z2 has a 3,200mAh battery with a claimed talktime of 13 hours. We obviously didn't have the time to test this during our quick hands-on review, but we'll be sure to test the battery fully when we do a full review of the device.
The Xperia Z2 will be released globally this month. Sony has yet to announce pricing details.
Privacy has been a concern on everyone's minds since Edward Snowden leaked classified documents to the press revealing the US National Security Agency's now notorious PRISM campaign.
These concerns reached new heights earlier this year when fresh revelations broke suggesting that the campaigns had intercepted communications sent from computers and smartphones.
So secure communications provider Silent Circle has teamed up with tech company Geeksphone to produce an NSA-busting, super-secure smartphone designed from the ground up to protect users' privacy, codenamed Blackphone.
Hardware and design
Silent Circle announced the Blackphone in January, though it only made its first official appearance at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona last week.
Visually the Blackphone is fairly unassuming, featuring a basic black handset with a slightly curved chassis that's built out of reinforced plastic. But under the hood it's slightly more impressive.
Geeksphone claims the Blackphone has been built to offer users internal specifications on a par with any other top-end smartphone, such as the Galaxy S5 or iPhone 5S. It comes with a 4.7in HD in-plane switching (IPS) touchscreen, quad-core 2GHz chip, 2GB RAM, 16GB of storage and an 8MP rear camera.
The Blackphone we saw was a pre-production model so the Silent Circle spokesman on staff declined our request to hold the phone – we would have argued our point but considering Silent Circle's tendency to hire ex-special forces personnel, we thought better of it. This meant we didn't get a chance to see how the smartphone's camera performed or benchmark it. However, during our demo we were impressed with the Blackphone's screen. Looking at the display we found it had great colour balance and brightness, and fairly good viewing angles.
The most important aspect of the Blackphone is its software. The Blackphone runs using a radically altered version of Android, codenamed PrivatOS. PrivatOS is a customised version of Android that is designed to secure the Blackphone at a hardware and software level. One of the main ways it does this is by integrating Silent Circle's Silent Text, Silent Phone, Silent Contacts and Silent Keys services directly into the operating system.
These tools allow users to securely make and receive phone calls, exchange texts, transfer and store files and video chat, without fear that their activities are being monitored or recorded.
They work using a custom communications technology developed by Silent Circle, which works by setting up a secure line between the Blackphone and any other device using Silent Circle services. All data flowing within the secure channel is encrypted using a self-generating and deleting encryption key. As an added security measure the key is never stored on the phone or by Silent Circle, so organisations such as the NSA couldn't demand that the firm hands them over should they want to spy on Blackphone users.
The one downside of the technology is that it requires both participants in the call or messaging chain to use Silent Circle's tools. This means communications between a Blackphone and regular phone not using Silent Circle products won't be secure.
Silent Circle has tried to get round this by bundling the Blackphone with three free one-year subscriptions to Silent Circle services that can be shared with friends, families or co-workers. But for business users looking to find a way to make all their communications secure this could be a bit of an issue.
The Blackphone will also come bundled with the Kismet Smart WiFi Manager and two-year access to Disconnect VPN and SpiderOak encrypted storage. The tools make it so Blackphone users should be able to surf the internet on public WiFi networks without giving away their GPS location or IP address.
During our demo we noticed the PrivatOS user interface (UI) was nicely quiet and Silent Circle hadn't radically reworked it or loaded too many custom applications or widgets. Aside from the UI's security services, Silent Circle had limited the Blackphone to Android's core applications, including Camera, Calendar and Clock. Silent Circle also said it would work to ensure any future applications running on the Blackphone are secured.
Value for money
The Blackphone is up for pre-order now for $629. While this sounds quite expensive it's important to note that the Blackphone's software and application portfolio alone would normally set you back more than $700.
Overall, we are impressed with the Blackphone. Despite its price, the Blackphone offers a diverse range of privacy and security services.
Our only initial concern is that by requiring the person at the other end of the phone to also be using Silent Circle services to be secure, the Blackphone's overall effectiveness as a mass rollout device for businesses is diminished. That said, it could still be useful to businesses to roll out to select teams with a specific need for privacy, such as C-level executives, or engineers working on confidential projects.
Check back with V3 later this year for a full review of the Silent Circle Blackphone.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
04 Mar 2014
Mozilla recently released the latest beta of its Firefox browser for Windows 8, and we downloaded it to a Windows 8.1 tablet to take it for a spin.
As this is a beta, it is available to download directly from Mozilla's website, rather than from the Microsoft Store. That said, we found the beta remarkably stable and polished – much more so than many of the release versions of apps we have tried from Microsoft's Store.
Our other first impressions of Firefox for Windows 8 Touch Beta are also positive; the browser is responsive, even on a relatively low-powered 8in tablet based on an Atom processor, and looks slick and modern when viewed in the Modern UI or "Metro-style" environment.
When used in Metro mode, Firefox follows the design conventions that Microsoft has dictated, using as much of the screen real estate for content as possible, while menus and controls are accessed by sliding in from the edges of the screen. Here, users will find an option to relaunch Firefox in the legacy Windows desktop instead, which keeps all your current tabs open.
In Metro mode, Firefox opens with a tile-based start screen giving one-tap access to recent or frequently accessed sites. The left and right edges of the screen also feature overlaid buttons to go back a screen and open a new tab.
Relaunching Firefox in desktop mode shows off a look and feel that will be familiar to existing users of Firefox for other versions of Windows, and provides access to all of the standard menus, including bookmarks, options and access to Add-ons.
Mozilla warned that the Windows 8 mode version of the browser does not share bookmarks, history or passwords with the desktop version at present. However, as a workaround, users can sign into the Firefox Sync service.
We ran Firefox for Windows 8 Touch Beta through the HTML5 compliance test website, which produced a score of 466 out of 555 points, compared with 372 for Microsoft's IE11 on the same system.
We also ran both browsers through Futurmark's Peacekeeper browser performance test. Firefox produced a score of 924 with 7 out of 7 for HTML5 capabilities, while IE11 produced a score of 680 with 5 out of 7 for HTML5 capabilities.
Overall, Mozilla's touch-based Firefox project is shaping up nicely, and looks set to be a viable alternative to IE for Windows 8 users when ready. We would be happy enough to use it as it stands, thanks to its responsiveness, ease of use and slick user interface.
Mobile World Congress 2014 saw a wave of new processors appear on the scene. This kicked of with Intel, when it launched a major offensive into the smartphone market, unveiling its dual-core Merrifield and quad-core Moorefield Atom processors. Not wanting to be outdone by the PC heavyweight, Qualcomm answered back, unveiling its latest top-end Snapdragon 805 64-bit processor.
On paper the Snapdragon 805 is pretty impressive. Built up of four Krait 450 cores with a maximum clock speed of 2.7GHz, the chip also integrates an Adreno 420 GPU and 128-bit memory interface. But a chip by itself is never the whole story, and it's all about how it works with the other parts and software in the device.
We got to test the Snapdragon running inside several demo Android tablets at Qualcomm's MWC stand, and we were very impressed by how well they ran. Trying out the first tablet with a variety of pre-installed applications, the device was lighting fast. We were particularly impressed with how well it dealt with heavier, more demanding tasks such as 1080p 3D gaming.
We're guessing this is due to the chip's upgraded Adreno 420 GPU, which is listed as offering 40 percent better performance than the older 320. It's also likely a consequence of the fact that the Adreno 420 GPU supports new hardware tessellation and geometry shaders for 4K rendering.
Hardware tessellation is a feature traditionally only seen in discrete GPUs for PCs and it has only recently been incorporated into DirectX and next-generation games consoles such as Sony's PS4 and Microsoft's Xbox One. For us the feature's inclusion on the Snapdragon 805 is sign that Qualcomm is working to further close the gap between PCs and tablets.
4K ultra HD resolution display
We noticed the biggest Snapdragon perk on a second tablet, which had a 10.1in 4K ultra HD 3840x2160 resolution display. This display quality is only possible on the tablet thanks to the advanced GPU and CPU combination in the Snapdragon 805, and we have to concede that the 4K display is a serious technical achievement.
Viewing a variety of images on the device, we found it one of the crispest and sharpest displays we've seen on a tablet. From, what we've seen of the test device so far, the display easily beat the iPad Air's performance. Holding the tablet as close to our face as we could, we still couldn't discern individual pixels on the screen.
As an added bonus the Snapdragon 805 also offers 4K video playback, featuring support for the hardware 4K HEVC (H.265) decode for mobile. Sadly, we didn't get a chance to test this during our hands on.
There's currently no word about when the first Snapdragon 805 tablets will be go on sale, but from what we've seen of the Qualcomm demo devices, we're pretty excited. The demo tablets we tried seemed lightning fast and, while we didn't get a chance to benchmark them, they did seem to offer substantially improved performance on Qualcomm's previous Snapdragon 800 processor.
That said, the real question isn't how the Snapdragon 805 compares with the 800, it is how it will match up to the performance of Intel's Moorefield. We're yet to get a chance to test this, but with Dell, Lenovo and Asus confirmed to be working on devices using the upgraded Atom chips, hopefully we won't have to wait long to do so.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
BARCELONA: For the past few years technology companies have been working hard to improve tablet and smartphone displays. To date, most efforts have focused on improving screen resolution and pixel per inch (PPI) density, but this Mobile World Congress (MWC) Japanese giant Fujitsu moved beyond this, demonstrating a new touchscreen technology designed to emulate how textures feel.
How it works
The haptic feedback screen technology was demoed on a test tablet at Fujitsu's MWC stand. The screen works using sensors under the display, which are designed to detect when a finger is touching the screen and emits low-powered, regulated, ultrasonic vibrations. The vibrations are designed to mimic the feedback sent to our fingertips' mechanoreceptors – sensory receptors in the skin's surface that respond to mechanical pressure or distortion – when they touch specific texture types.
Our demo unit let us try the haptic display in a variety of scenarios. These included a digital dial lock on a vault, a set of strings on a musical instrument, a crocodile's back and a sand box.
Testing the dial lock we noticed one issue with the haptic display – it only works if you interact with it using one finger. Trying to physically grab the digital lock with two fingers – like you would in real life – the display only reacted to our index finger. This could be a bit of an issue as most tablet users are currently used to 10-point touch connectivity.
Once we put this issue aside we found the display's feedback was quite impressive. Turning the on-screen dial lock we felt realistic resistance that did simulate that of a real one. The display also responded to the force of our movements with the lock turning more easily when we applied more force.
We were also impressed with the string demo, and the screen reacted and responded differently to each input we attempted. For example, forcefully plucking one of the digital strings the screen's feedback was sharper and more forceful than when we smoothly stroked our finger over it.
The same could be said for the crocodile demo, where we found the haptic technology was able to realistically emulate smooth and bumpy surfaces. While our healthy fear of crocodiles means we can't attest to the texture's accuracy, we did notice a difference in feedback with smooth textures having a slightly more slippery feel than the protruding or rough parts of the crocodile's back on the screen.
The sand box demo proved that the display is able to deal with multi-layer textures. This demo required us to brush sand off a mosaic image, and we found the haptic display offered convincing feedback on both layers, changing the feel of the underlying mosaic's image after we'd rubbed the sand off.
But we noticed one final flaw with the tech. Picking up the tablet to test the sand box demo we found the display stopped offering feedback to our commands. After quickly grabbing the tablet back, the spokeswoman explained that the haptic display tech currently only works if the tablet is laid flat, so the technology as it currently stands would be of little use for tablet users on the move.
When to expect it
There's currently no official date for when we can expect to see Fujitsu's haptic display technology implemented in a commercial product, but the spokeswoman told us this will most likely be sometime in 2015.
We were generally quite impressed with the haptic display. After going through all the available demos we found Fujitsu's demo display can emulate a variety of textures. But it does have a couple of issues we'd like to see ironed out before it hits the mainstream. These include the fact that it only works if you interact with it using one finger, and if the tablet is laid flat. Here's hoping these issues are fixed before the first tablet with a haptic display goes on sale.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
BARCELONA: Panasonic's previous Toughpads have been some of the sturdiest devices we've ever reviewed, with their rugged IP68 certification meaning they can survive everything from a dip in a lake to a three-metre drop onto a concrete floor.
In the past, though, these tablets have been fairly large and have lacked any telephonic abilities. Luckily for those working in hazardous industries – who the tablets are designed for – Panasonic unveiled its new 3G-enabled 5in FZ-E1 and FZ-X1 Toughpads at Mobile World Congress.
Design and build
The two Toughpads look identical and are the same design as their larger predecessors. They both have the same reinforced glass front and ruggedised rubber sides. In keeping with their IP68 certification, the Toughpads' micro USB, power, audio and dual-micro SIM inputs are also all securely covered.
This means they are nowhere near as pretty as more consumer-focused devices and are far heavier, weighing 430g. The trade-off is their IP68 certification, which means the Toughpads are seriously robust and should be able to survive being submerged in liquids at depths of up to 1.5 metres for 30 minutes. They can also survive direct drops from up to three meters.
As an added perk for business customers, Panasonic has also designed the Toughpads to feature the same barcode reader and peripheral upgrade options as its previous tablets. The barcode reader lies at the top of the Toughpad's long edge, while the upgrade USB dock is underneath the removable backplate. The dock lets users connect a number of Toughpad peripherals to the device, like a second battery or chip and PIN reader.
As an added bonus Panasonic has added removable batteries, so users can carry a backup with them when they are away from a power socket for a prolonged period.
We've not been fans of the displays on previous Toughpads. This is because, while very tough, the touchscreens have been resistive, not capacitive, so they could sometimes be unresponsive and difficult to use.
Panasonic has rectified this on the new FZ-E1 and FZ-X1 Toughpads, loading them with HD capacitive touchscreens. While colours and brightness levels were not on a par with most consumer devices in the same class, they were very responsive to the touch and are a definite improvement on previous models.
The screens can also be used when wearing gloves, and considering the conditions these devices are designed to operate in, this is definitely an advantage.
A Panasonic spokesman told us that the display is very rugged and should be able to survive direct impact from a "dropped brick", for example. Unfortunately our request to test this during our hands on was declined.
Operating system and software
The FZ-E1 runs using Windows Embedded 8 while the FZ-X1 uses Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. Windows Embedded is the enterprise version of Windows Phone. It is designed to offer users more robust security and includes the option for companies to partner with Microsoft to tweak it to meet their needs.
The Panasonic spokesman told us the company chose to release the 5in Toughpad with two OS options as a "play-it-safe move", arguing that the mobile market in enterprise is still quite volatile and companies are divided over which is the better option. There is definitely some truth in this claim and we're happy to see that Panasonic has tailored the Toughpads to work for businesses using both Microsoft's and Google's enterprise ecosystems.
The Windows-powered FZ-E1 is confirmed to run using a 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor. The Android-powered FZ-X1 uses an older 1.7GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 chip. Both versions boast 2GB of RAM.
We didn't notice a massive difference in performance during our hands on. Both tablets proved capable of dealing with every task we gave them, opening webpages using the busy showroom WiFi in seconds and navigating smoothly between menus.
We didn't get a chance to benchmark either Toughpad or see how they perform when challenged with more demanding tasks, but we'll be sure to do this in our full review.
Both Toughpads come with 8MP rear and 1.3MP front cameras. Image quality, while far below top-end camera phones, was reasonable. We wouldn't want to use it unless we had to, but images generally came out in focus and featured reasonable colour balance and brightness levels. We were also impressed with the cameras' shutter speeds, with both capturing images milliseconds after we hit the capture button.
Panasonic has loaded the 5in Toughpads with a large 6,200mAh battery, which it claims will last 13-14 hours off one charge.
The Panasonic Toughpad FZ-E1 and FZ-X1 live up to their names and offer business users based in hazardous environments a robust device. The added perks of full telephonic 3G connectivity has the potential to upgrade the Toughpads from productivity tools to communication tools as well.
But this promise is likely to come with a premium price tag. Though Panasonic is yet to officially confirm prices, a spokesman told us the Toughpad FZ-E1 and FZ-X1 would likely cost around €1,000, making them close to twice as expensive as more consumer-focused, top-end smartphones and tablets.
Check back with V3 later this year for full reviews of the Toughpad FZ-E1 and FZ-X1.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
26 Feb 2014
BARCELONA: Since Microsoft released its latest touch-focused Windows 8 operating system, hardware manufacturers have been wrestling to find the best way to showcase its finer points and create a truly usable laptop-tablet hybrid.
Some firms, such as Asus, have tried to solve the problem by creating dockable keyboard attachments for Windows 8 tablets. Others such as Lenovo have been a little more creative, making IdeaPad Yoga devices with flexible hinges that let users turn the laptop into a tablet by rotating its keyboard round to go behind the screen.
HP has traditionally chosen the same route as Asus, creating standalone tablets that can be turned into laptop replacements with optional dock attachments. But all that changed at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2014, where the company chose to quite literally go back on itself and unveil its IdeaPad Yoga-like Pavilion x360 laptop.
Design and build
HP has worked hard to make sure the Pavilion x360 looks as eye catching as possible, releasing it in a variety of colours. The red version we saw looked particularly striking and set the Pavilion apart from HP's other more enterprise-focused hybrids.
The Pavilion x360 is fairly light by large tablet standards, weighing in at 1.4kg, and doesn't feel overly heavy. We also found the slightly rubbery plastic outer coating felt suitably robust and offered little to no flex with pressure.
The keyboard and trackpad also proved fairly pleasant to use and were suitably responsive to the touch.
Checking the Pavilion x360's sides and back we were also pleased to see that HP has equipped it with a healthy selection of connectivity options. The system features a SuperSpeed USB 3.0 port, two USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, Ethernet and a headphone-out/mic-in combo jack.
It was only when we attempted to change the Pavilion x360 into a tablet that we noticed any issues. Attempting to rotate the keyboard to go behind the screen, the hinge was very stiff. It felt fairly delicate and on a few occasions we were concerned that we'd actually snap the hinge – though an HP spokesman told us this is because the model we looked at was pre-production and that this will be fixed on the final versions.
The Pavilion x360 was also slightly difficult to use, firstly, because by having the keyboard on its back, it's fairly hard to get a good grip on the Pavilion x360. Secondly, while it's reasonably light for a laptop, as a tablet, the machine is far too heavy to comfortably hold in one hand.
The Pavilion x360 comes with a 11.6in HD LED-backlit, 1366x768 touchscreen, and seemed very responsive to gesture input. Our only regret in this regard is that the Pavilion x360 doesn't come with a digital stylus, which meant taht using it as a standalone tablet could at times be fiddly – especially if trying to use a desktop application.
The display also offered reasonable picture quality. While nowhere near as good as the in-plane switching (IPS) displays seen in other tablets, the Pavilion's is reasonably good. Colours were suitably vibrant and text, while sometimes a little hazy, was always readable.
The only issue we noticed was that the Pavilion x360's screen was fairly prone to picking up stray light. When this happened the Pavilion x360 became all but unusable – though we were testing it in a very bright showroom.
The Pavilion x360 comes with Microsoft Windows 8.1 pre-installed. There is no Windows 8.1 Professional option for businesses, meaning the device is more suited for BYOD than dedicated corporate use.
The use of Windows 8.1 is still reasonably good from a productivity perspective. The device comes with Microsoft's core Office and OneDrive document-editing and storage services. The use of Windows 8.1, as opposed to the less impressive Windows RT also means users can load and run legacy software on the Pavilion x360.
HP offers the Pavilion x360 with either an Intel Pentium N3520 2.17GHz processor or an Intel Pentium N2820 2.13GHz processor. The demo device we tested featured 8GB of RAM. All versions feature Intel HD graphics.
This means high-power tasks, such as digital painting, video editing and 3D modelling and gaming, will be beyond the Pavilion x360. Considering it is priced from £350, though, this is no surprise.
Testing it for productivity tasks, such as web-browsing and document-editing, the Pavilion x360 purred along nicely and we didn't experience any performance issues during our hands on.
Storage and camera
The Pavilion x360 we tested had 500GB of built-in storage, but it also comes in 320GB and 750GB options. It also has an HP TrueVision HD Webcam with an integrated digital microphone for video-calling. Powering up Skype and making a video call to a smartphone, the camera was more than good enough for making video calls.
HP is remaining hazy as to how long the Pavilion's two-cell battery should last off one charge and a spokesman at the company's MWC stand declined to answer queries regarding battery life. We will test this properly in a full review.
While the HP Pavilion x360 doesn't feel terribly original, looking a little too much like a Lenovo Yoga for our liking, our initial impressions are fairly positive. While it is heavy as a tablet, the Pavilion x360 did feel like a reasonable netbook replacement.
But its ability to deliver will largely be determined by key details that HP is remaining quiet about, such as battery life.
The HP Pavilion x360 is due for release in Europe in March, with prices starting at £350. Check back with V3 then for a full review.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
25 Feb 2014
BARCELONA: Huawei has been fighting an ongoing war to conquer the Western smartphone and tablet markets for several years now. In the smartphone arena the Chinese firm has had some success, with analyst house IDC listing it as the third-biggest handset maker in 2013.
However, its MediaPad tablets have so far failed to match this success, and so the MediaPad X1 is the latest attempt from Huawei to rectify this situation.
Design and build
Visually, the MediaPad X1 is a lot nicer than previous Huawei tablets. It features a very slim 7.2mm aluminium chassis that houses a 7in display. The use of metal makes the X1 feel slightly more high end than other similarly sized tablets, such as Google's Nexus 7.
Thanks to its smaller dimensions, the MediaPad X1 is also more comfortable to use while held in one hand than the slightly thicker 7.5mm iPad Mini. This was also helped by the MediaPad X1's 239g weight.
We were also impressed with the MediaPad X1's build quality. Our time with the device left us suitably convinced that the tablet could survive the odd accidental bump, scrape and drop. Our only concern was that the metallic-finish chassis of our demo unit didn't seem particularly scratch resistant – though we didn't get a chance to fully check its durability.
Huawei made a big deal about the MediaPad X1's 7in 1200x1920, low-temperature polysilicon (LTPS) LCD display, and we can understand why. Boasting a pixel density of 323 pixels per inch (ppi), the MediaPad X1's screen proved very crisp, with icons and text appearing sharp and clear.
Colours were vibrant and viewing angles were great. While the MediaPad X1's display was good, the only small qualm was that it wasn't quite as bright as some other tablets, such as the iPad Mini or Nexus 7.
Operating system and software
The MediaPad X1 runs the somewhat old Android 4.2 Jelly Bean operating system overlaid with Huawei's own Emotion UI 2.0 skin.
The use of the Emotion UI means the MediaPad X1's user interface is very different to most other Android tablets. In the past we've not been big fans of the Emotion UI and, sadly, this remained true during our hands-on time with the MediaPad X1.
The Emotion UI made using the MediaPad fairly heavy going, because Huawei has made a number of key changes. The biggest of these is the removal of the apps menu. Most Android phones feature an app menu button that takes the user directly to a window showing all installed applications, making it quick and easy to know what is on the device. Emotion changes this and – in a bid to look more like Apple iOS – places all installed applications in the main UI.
Thanks to the sea of custom applications Huawei has loaded onto the MediaPad X1, it makes the UI look very cluttered and more difficult to navigate.
The use of the Emotion UI also left us feeling slightly concerned about the MediaPad X1's potential to receive upgrades to newer Android versions. Traditionally devices using skinned versions of Android have taken longer to receive software updates. This is because the skin's custom code needs to be tweaked to work with new Android versions, and given how radically Emotion UI changes Android, we expect that this will be the case with the MediaPad X1.
The MediaPad X1 runs using a Hisilicon Kirin 910 1.6GHz quad-core processor that's backed up by 2GB of RAM. It also features advanced Cat 4 LTE connectivity. We didn't get a chance to see how the MediaPad X1 performed on a 4G network, but found it fairly nippy when connected to WiFi in the showroom.
The tablet proved capable of opening applications and webpages in seconds, and was fairly responsive in general. We didn't get a chance to install any benchmarking tools on the demo device or see how it handled more demanding tasks such as 3D gaming, but will be sure to do so in our full review.
Huawei has endowed the MediaPad X1 with a 13MP rear camera that boasts Sony's BSI Exmor imaging technology, plus a 5MP front camera. However, we've never been fans of taking photos on a tablet, because most have sub-par imaging sensors and thanks to their increased size are fairly unpleasant to take pictures on.
This generally remained true for the MediaPad X1, too. But, taking a few quick snaps on the showroom floor we had to concede we were impressed with how well images came out, at least when judging them by tablet standards. The shots we took looked fairly sharp and featured reasonable colour and contrast levels.
Storage and battery
The MediaPad X1 has 16GB storage, which can be upgraded to 32GB via its micro SD card slot.
One key selling point we didn't get to test was the MediaPad X1's battery life. Huawei claims the MediaPad X1's 5,000mAh battery will offer users 15 hours of video playback from a single charge. If true, this will be a massive selling point for the tablet, with most competitors struggling to make it to the nine-hour video playback milestone.
Huawei has not yet announced when the MediaPad X1 will be released, but has confirmed that it will cost €399 (£329). This means it will be more expensive than its main Android competition, the Google Nexus 7, which costs from £199.
But we were impressed with the device. The MediaPad X1 appears to offer premium build quality and above-average performance – a fact that can only be helped by its advanced 4G LTE connectivity.
The only possible thing we can see holding the MediaPad X1 back is the cluttered Emotion UI and its superfluous software additions.
Check back with V3 later this year for a full review of the Huawei MediaPad X1.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson